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IN DEPTH: The Scouting Report

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Bob Green, far right, pictured with Connor McDavid on stage at the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center after McDavid was selected first overall by the Edmonton Oilers in the first round on June 26, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images).

It's 7 o'clock in the evening on a February night in Quebec and the Edmonton Oilers Director of Player Personnel Bob Green is making his way to the press box at the Centre d'Excellence Sports Rosseau in the small Montreal suburb of Blainville.

 

 


With his coffee in hand, Green chats briefly with some of the local area scouts, checks over the lineups one last time and then settles in to watch some of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's (QMJHL) top prospects square off.
 
While it may sound like Green's work for the day is just getting started, the truth is that it more or less began before his 8am flight out of Logan International Airport in Boston that morning as he finished up some scouting reports from the Beanpot Tournament final - an annual college tournament featuring Boston College, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern - the night before while waiting for his flight.

Much like how the previous day's work rolled over into todays, this day's work will meld into tomorrows and that one into the next. And such is the life of an NHL team's busy scouting department and its many moving parts.
 
The title of Director of Player Personnel might suggest that it's a little less frontline work and a little more situated, but Green explains that his own personal travel schedule is in full swing come February, and pretty much has been since the start of September.
 
"The busiest time would probably be between September and April," Green says with a laugh that suggests there really isn't a downtime for the scouting department during the length of the hockey season.
 
"I don't really see a change once I get going. You're pretty much full steam all the time from the start of the season. Junior seasons (WHL, OHL, QMJHL) generally start in September and go right through until probably the end of May, including playoffs. So my personal schedule is pretty busy."
 
Green adds that sometimes he simply loses track of how many days a month he spends on the road between attending multiple games in various leagues.
 
"I can't even estimate how many days I am actually on the road in a month. You watch maybe 25 to 30 games a month and a lot of them are out of town, so you spend a lot of time traveling to watch the various junior leagues while also trying to get some pro games in."
 
This particular trip's schedule finds Green at a matchup between the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL in Blainville, which eventually ends in a 2-1 victory for the visiting Huskies. Green wraps up what he can while still at the arena and then packs into his rental car for the one-hour drive back to basecamp in Montreal.
 

 

 

 

Bob Green, Oilers Director of Player Personnel. Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club.

A trip of this sort often takes strategic planning and scheduling for the scout to get as much out of it as possible. There may be four teams in the surrounding area of a bigger metropolis that a scout has an interest in seeing over the course of a week, so there is a need to set up camp somewhere central. On this trip, Green bases himself out of Montreal. Hence the hour-long, post-game hike from Blainville back downtown on this particular night. But Green is quick to note that a lengthy commute is the norm while on the road.
 
"Generally there's a minimum two-hour drive to a game, so you tend to try to set up base out of the most convenient spot. There's a lot of driving involved and you try to get to games relatively early."
 
Green also mentions that, thankfully, he's no stranger to those long days in the car given his previous experience in the WHL as the Oil Kings General Manager, and before that as Assistant GM and Director of Player Personnel for the Medicine Hat Tigers.
 
"For guys like me with experience in the prairies, we're used to a little bit of driving because working in the WHL, you cover a lot of miles. So the driving isn't an issue."
 
After the commute from Blainville back to Montreal, the clock is inching towards midnight and Green settles in for the night in his downtown hotel.
 
The next morning starts as it usually would on the road. Green wakes up and begins work on his reports from the previous night's game. He makes some calls, returns some messages and looks over some reports and emails from a few of the area scouts he manages that are currently based overseas.
 
It's about 8am in Montreal, which would make it mid-afternoon in Europe, where the club's international scouts are already in the midst of another busy work day. In addition to his own bustling travel schedule, Green is also in charge of coordinating the team's amateur scouts in their particular areas, including the scouts currently in Europe.
 
Due to the time difference, communication is a little tougher, but Green does make it a priority for his department to keep in close communication with their overseas counterparts.
 
"We communicate a lot through emails and phone calls, but you try to talk to those guys on a daily basis. James McGregor, who works with me on the amateur (scouting) side of things, does a lot of that and talks to the scouts in Europe almost every day."
 
With an already busy department on the North American side of the pond, Green says that communication with the various scouts working in Europe has to be often and effective for the department as a whole to stay ahead of the game.
 
"It's good to hear from them every day about where they're going, who they're seeing, who's playing well and who isn't. You just try to stay ahead of it with the guys and you have to have an open line of communication. They'll give you a good feeling about who is playing well that you need to see, and who is trending up and who is trending down."
 
After sending off the day's scouting reports to fellow Oilers senior management and catching up on some emails, Green finds time for a quick workout and some lunch before heading out on the road again. On the docket tonight is another QMJHL matchup, this time in Shawinigan, a two-hour trek from Montreal. Green makes sure he leaves his hotel in time to make it to the arena two hours before puck drop, as per usual.
 
The two-hour buffer Green leaves himself before most games gives him time to get the lineups, take in pre-game warmup and chat with other scouts and possibly coaches.
 
With such a large emphasis on communication within his own department, it's no surprise that Green mentions how important the networking aspect of scouting can be when the club has a genuine interest in a particular player. The information-gathering process goes into full swing and scouts like to go right to the source.
 
"Networking is important for sure. You can get a lot of valuable information from coaches about the kids you might draft or are looking at signing as free agents. They have a lot of insight into players. It's important that you have a relationship with a coach where you can trust he'll have all the information and not hold anything back. So you want all your scouts to have a good relationship with as many coaches as possible."
 
The game finishes up, Green goes through his usual post-game wrap-up routine and it's on the road again back to Montreal. The next morning is much like the previous - finish up last night's game reports, make some calls and return some emails. Occasionally, there may be an email or call about a new name that's popping up on the Oilers scouting radar. Green says the process leading up to identifying and developing genuine interest in a player is often a complicated and ever-changing one, relying a lot on word-of-mouth as well.
 
"You might talk to coaches and area scouts who see guys play, relay information and sometimes you go to games to check out a certain player, but somebody else jumps out at you that you didn't know about. A lot of it is word-of-mouth."
 
Green might take a closer look at the new name coming from one of his scouts and all of a sudden he's booking a flight to Toronto for two weeks from now to catch some Ontario Hockey League (OHL) games.
 
"You definitely want to follow up on those kind of reports on players because it attributes to how you would set up your schedule, especially at this time of year. You're really pinpointing who you're looking at, you have a better idea about where guys fit and you can look at your current situation as a team and make decisions based on that."

With all the miles put in and time spent on the road by scouts attempting to spot future NHL talent in a sea of potential, there are of course times when their determined and detailed work comes to fruition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oilers defenceman Jordan Oesterle. Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club.

One specific case that Green had a hand in personally is with Oilers defensive prospect Jordan Oesterle. As far as most NHL prospects go, Oesterle certainly took the path less traveled, going first through the United States Hockey League (USHL) system and then on to Western Michigan University. It was three years into Oesterle's university career when Green and the Oilers came knocking, and on March 31, 2014, Oesterle signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the club. As a smaller D-man at a smaller school in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), some may wonder just how exactly players like Oesterle manage to stand out in such a competitive hockey environment. Green says that with the landscape of NHL scouting these days, there aren't as many of those "hidden gems," so to speak.

"There's so much coverage now, there's less and less of those guys all the time. Some guys just develop later," says Green of players like Oesterle.

"They might not go through the draft, and eventually you just pick up on them through word-of-mouth and diligent scouting… In Jordan (Oesterle's) case, talking to coaches and getting a feel for the player helps a lot. They'll give you a heads up on a guy that you should take a look at. Jordan's case was much like this, you just have to follow those leads and see what fits."

Oesterle has spent the bulk of the last two seasons as a consistent blueline presence with the Oilers AHL affiliate club and saw his hard work eventually culminate into his first NHL call up at the end of the 2014-15 season for a six-game stint with the big club. He again got the call from the Oilers this February, showing that his days on the farm might be numbered as he continues to hone his craft on the blueline.

Stories like that of Oesterle's are exactly why NHL scouting departments operate the way they do.

In addition to any free agent signings the club might make, all those kilometres in the air, and hundreds more pounding the pavement, pay off in June as the Oilers step to the podium and make their NHL Draft selections. Green is one of the most integral people helping mould the Oilers future, as they strive to build a championship team.

 

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